Joan Bulmer

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Joan Bulmer (nee Acworth) as played by Catherine Steadman

born 1519 - died December 1590

Character's backstory
The daughter of George Acworth of Luton, Bedfordshire and Margaret Wilberforce. Joan married William Bulmer at an early age but as this had been an unhappy union she had left his house to go into service with Agnes Tilney, Dowager duchess of Norfolk where she became a long-term friend of Katherine Howard. She was punished along with Katherine and Francis Dereham when the Dowager Duchess found Katherine and Francis embraced. Some historians have speculated that Joan had been involved with Dereham before Katherine and it was she who had informed on their affair. When Katherine became Queen, Joan recieved a position in the new Queen's household. It may have been because Joan knew information of Katherine's past and blackmailed her as that could bring about her own downfall.
And what a cozy arrangement this turned out to be. Brought to court were her merry companions, and at the urging of Duchess of Norfolk, Francis Dereham was made her secretary. The king was old and grossly overweight and Katherine was young and healthy and filled with a lusty love of life. She and Thomas Culpepper recklessly renewed their involvement, although just how involved will ever remain one of history’s secrets. It was only a matter of time before the King was made aware of the affair. Dereham was hauled off to the Tower and tortured. Culpepper, Joan and Edward Waldegrave soon joined him. Taken, too, were the children belonging to the prisoners. The Tower was so crowded the Royal Apartments were opened to house the unfortunate prisoners. Joan along with Katherine Tylney, Anne Howard (Katherine's sister), Malena Tylney and Margaret Benett were examined by officials over several weeks, comparing their evidence and interrogating them several times. At the time of Katherine Howard’s trial and execution in 1542, Joan Bulmer was listed as a widow, but in fact her husband was still alive.

From documents regarding the conviction of Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham of High Treason in committing adultery with Queen Katherine Howard and of the others of concealment in December 1542, we read:

The “Jurors further find that the said Katherine Tylney, Alice Restwold, wife of Anthony Restwold, of the same place, Gentleman; Joan Bulmer wife of William Bulmer, of the same place, Gentleman; Anna Howard, wife of Henry Howard late of Lambeth, Esq.; Robert Damporte late of the same place, Gentleman; Malena Tylney late of the same place, widow; and Margaret Benet, wife of John Benet, late of the same place, Gentleman; knowing the wicked life of the Queen and Dereham, did conceal the same from the King and all his Councillors. And that this said Agnes, Duchess of Norfolk, with whom the queen had been educated from her youth upward; William Howard, late of Lambeth, uncle of the Queen and one of the King’s Councillors; Margaret Howard, wife of William Howard; Katherine, Countess of Bridgewater, late of Lambeth, otherwise Katherine the wife of Henry, Earl of Bridgewater; Edward Waldegrave late of Lambeth, Gentleman; and William Asheley, late of Lambeth, in the county of Surrey, knowing that certain letters and papers had been taken from a chest and concealing the information from the King.
Katherine Tylney, Alice Restwold, Joan Bulmer, Anna Howard, Malena Tylney, Margaret Benet, Margaret Howard, Edward Waldegrave, and William Asheley are brought to the Bar by the Constable of the Tower, and being severally arraigned as well upon the Surrey Indictment, as the Indictments for Kent, and Middlesex, they pleaded guilty.

JUDGEMENT: they shall be severally taken back by the Constable of the Tower, and in the same Tower, or elsewhere, as the King shall direct, be kept in perpetual imprisonment and that all their goods and chattels shall be forfeited to the King, and their lands and tenements seized into the King’s hands.

Joan and Edward were released and pardoned within ten months as were some of the others. But their old friends met with horrifying ends.
She had met Edward Waldegrave at the Dowager's house and he had also been arrested for questioning. They had a tempestuous relationship and he separated from her and refused to provide her with adequate financial assistance. In response, Joan petitioned the Privy Council. In the summer of 1543, he was thrown into prison but was released in June on condition that he stuck to his promise and provided for her. They legally married in 1556 and had five children. Edward died 13 August, 1584 and Joan died 10 December, 1590 and both were buried in Lawford Church, County Essex. Joan was aged 71.


Position: Chamberer to Queen Katherine Howard

Personality type:

Signature look:

Endearing trait(s):

Annoying trait(s):

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Joan Bulmer

A few days before the Katherine & Henry`s marriage, Joan, her partner in the nighttime romantic extravaganzas at Lambeth, wrote her a letter. She confided that her marriage had brought her “into the utmost misery of the world and most wretched life,” and urged Katherine, to send for her, pleading:

. . . not to be forgetful of this my request, for if you do not help me, I am not like to have worldly joys. Desiring you, if you can, to let me have some answer of this for the satisfying of my mind; for I know the Queen of Britain will not forget her secretary, and favour you will show.

See LINK: [romps and wilted roses by Suellen Clopton Blanton]

Ambassador Marillac noted that after Thomas Culpepper's and Derham's condemnation, "... the old duchess of Norfolk has been brought prisoner to the Chancellor's house, and a sister of lord William and five or six other ladies are imprisoned apart, to be examined whether the evil manners of the Queen were known before the marriage."

Wriothesley/Risley (Anne Askew's torturer) and Southampton reported on December 21, 1541, from the Tower:

"Spoke then with [the queen's women] Wylkes, Bulmer, Tylney, and Anne Haward, 'who be women much changed and very repentant.' Spoke then with lady Haward, who seems a very simple woman, and neither thought she had offended nor lamented her imprisonment. However, when shown her offences, she was very repentant and said she would have no other trial than the King's mercy. Comforted her, as they did the others, and departed."


Family members:
Father - George Acworth of Luton, Bedfordshire (d. May 17, 1530)
Mother - Margaret Wilberforce (d.1539)

William Bulmer (1512-1555/6)
2. Edward Waldegrave m. June 1556.(another member of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk's Household)

Her children with Waldegrave were Anne (b.c.1544), Mary, Bridget, Edward, and Margaret

Katherine Howard



  • "She's not our Kate anymore, she belongs to him; she belongs to the king."- Joan warning Francis Dereham regarding Katherine Howard.



Joan Bulmer as played by Catherine Steadman Joan Bulmer cries for KH

Joan Bulmer & Katherine Howard

Joan Bulmer and Katherine Howard
Joan Bulmer
Season 4, Episode 2
Episode 2
JRM as King Henry VIII
Jane Boleyn as played by Joanne King & Joan Bulmer as played by Catherine Steadman Season 4, Episode 4
Katherine sees Francis Dereham Joan and Queen KH